Does Russia Have Designs on Southern Ukraine?

All eyes are on eastern Ukraine right now. After failing to capture Kyiv and collapse the Ukrainian state, Vladimir Putin refocused his forces on achieving a decisive victory in the Donbas region. Based on reports of the fighting, it appears that the Russian army is attempting to break out through Ukrainian defenses around the city of Izym, about 75 miles southeast of Kharkiv. If they manage to break out, they can drive south and/or west and, possibly in coordination with another Russian assault from the south, attempt to surround Ukrainian units that are stationed on the frontlines of the “contact line” with the Russian positions in Donbas. These lines have not changed much since 2015, and Ukrainian and Russian forces are pretty well dug-in on either side. If Russia’s forces manage to surround all these troops, they will milk the “cauldron” for all the positive propaganda they can get and attempt to humiliate and collapse the Ukrainian government just using these events in the east. The Russian military tried something similar (though at a smaller scale) during the battle of Debaltseve in February 2015

In the last few days, two senior Russian leaders and one Ukrainian pro-Russian subversive signaled what they want to do after that (or, what they want others to believe they will do after that): renew an attack on southern Ukraine. 

In an interview posted on Wednesday, retired Col. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, the former commander in chief of Russia’s airborne forces and a current member of the Russian parliament gave an assessment of the invasion of Ukraine so far:

“Russian troops achieved their goals as part of the first stage of the special operation… Of course, Mariupol and some other fortified areas have held back [Russian] units. As soon as we cut this Gordian knot, it will become much easier, and then we will take on the grouping that is between the Dnieper and the town of Izyum which is already, in essence, surrounded… Odesa is next. While there is an advance in the Nikolaev region, Odesa, like appendicitis, is blocked up, but I think that its turn will come.”

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